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“It might be abnormal, but it actually worked out really well,” Mickelson said. “I got all my work done on Merion last when I was here a week and a half ago. I knew exactly how I wanted to play the golf course, given the conditions, given different wind conditions, clubs I was going to be hitting, where I was going to be and the shots that I was going to have.”

Mickelson, who carried five wedges but no driver in his bag for the relatively short Merion course, promptly went out and bogeyed the first hole. But he came back after a rain delay to play 3-under on his back nine, aided by an energy drink at the turn that got him refocused.

Now he’s not only in the enviable position of being high on the leaderboard in the U.S. Open, but having plenty of time to get his rest. He would have had an afternoon tee time anyway on Friday, but after two suspensions for weather it will be delayed even more because other players have to complete their first rounds.

Mickelson has three green jackets, 41 career wins and a large fortune from earnings and endorsements. He’s the most popular player in the game, one of the most popular athletes in sports.

But he’s 42 and approaching an age where players traditionally no longer compete for major titles. So when he was asked after his round how he feels about his relationship with the Open he was a bit more reflective than usual.

“If I’m able, and I believe I will, if I’m able to ultimately win a U.S. Open, I would say that it’s great,” Mickelson said. “But if I never get that win, then it would be a bit heart-breaking.”

For the player and his legion of fans.

Not nearly as heartbreaking, though, as missing his daughter’s graduation.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http:twitter.com/timdahlberg